Time for Sakura in Japan!

Mar 17 | Evan | No Comments |

 Sakura Flowering Rush about to take place in Japan 2021 March

One of the most popular times of the year for international travelers to visit Japan is spring when sakura, cherry blossoms are blooming. If you have visited Japan during this time, you know the beautiful pink sakura flowers spotted all over the country. For Japanese, sakura is extremely important and symbolic. There are many songs about sakura, and this time of the year, sakura truly holds a special place in Japanese people’s hearts. In this article, let’s dig in deeper about sakura, what it means to Japanese people, but also find out when we are expecting sakura to fully bloom in 2021. Of course, with the travel restrictions, we international travelers cannot visit Japan, but let’s learn about it so that maybe next year in 2022, we get to take a part in a photography tour of Japan to view the beautiful flowers and photograph them. 

The significance of sakura to Japanese people 

For Japanese, March is the month when you graduate or end the school/work year while April is the month of new beginning, to start a new grade, school, or work, thus sakura is extremely symbolic to Japanese to signify these special times of the year. For many Japanese, sakura is the flowers that are blooming at graduation and/or entrance ceremony so they often hold special feelings and memories to Japanese such as departure, end of school, end of relationship, as well as new beginning and new relationship. Yes, it’s a very complex feeling, thus sakura holds a special place in Japanese people’s hearts.

If you ever searched on YouTube for songs titled sakura, you find plenty (You might need to search using katakana, hiragana, and kanji to look for all!).  Let me introduce one from Naotaro Moriyama, which is a very popular graduation song with a title sakura. If you can read the comments in Japanese, take some time to read the comments. Many Japanese people are leaving comments with personal stories associated with this song. Besides from the incredibly talented singer’s voice, the lyrics really speak to Japanese people.  If you are curious about the lyrics, you can easily find the lyrics online, which can be translated instantly in Google search. 

In addition to Naotaro Moriyama’ sakura, let me introduce another sakura by Ketsumeishi. While Naotaro Moriyama’s sakura has a feeling of students graduating from schools and departing from one another, this Ketsumeishi sakura version is for more grownups who are now working and are starting a new chapter in life. 

Besides these two, there are many more songs titled sakura and songs that sing about this time of the year depicting sakura blooming and/or falling down. If you are curious, search more on your own and share with us which sakura song you like. 

Japan is expecting the Sakura Flowering Rush in the 3rd week of March in 2021! 

Ok, let’s get back to this year’s sakura forecast. According to the (use google translate) Japan Weather Association’s Ms. Yoshida, the 2nd week of March has had little ups and downs with temperature, but it has been on a high end so it is expected that sakura is going to start blooming in the 3rd week of March. 

According to Ms. Yoshida, sakura has already flowered in Hiroshima on the 11th of March 2021 and Fukuoka on the 12th of March 2021, which are both the earliest since this recording has been made. This year’s flowering is roughly 10 days earlier than usual and Kyushu Region to Kanto Region is expected to see a flowering rush in the 3rd week of March. 

As of March 13th 2021, Tokyo is expected to flower on the 16th, Nagoya on the 17th, and Osaka on the 19th. The full bloom is expected a week to 10 days since the flowering starts. Unfortunately, sakura viewing, “ohanami” to get together under a sakura tree is prohibited this year again, but Japanese people will be enjoying beautiful sakura very soon. 

Unfortunately, except for Japanese people living in Japan, we cannot enjoy sakura blooming this year in Japan, but I am pretty sure many people will post these beautiful flowers very soon on social media so let’s keep an eye out for it. Also, there are some sakura in the US too so hopefully if you live near sakura in the US, you get to enjoy the beautiful spring flowers soon. Maybe when you see them next time, you might be thinking about what it means to Japanese by remembering perhaps your new favorite sakura song, which Introduced today or you discovered by surfing YouTube.

March 2021 Japan’s current COVID situations and travel restrictions

Mar 14 | Evan | Comments Off on March 2021 Japan’s current COVID situations and travel restrictions |

As of March 14th 2021, no foreigners, both tourists and business people, are allowed to enter Japan. These new strict restrictions were placed because of the new variants of COVID emerging around the world as well as the country’s number of infections increased dramatically in winter. Let’s dive deeper into what’s happening in Japan today and find out when we could take a photo tour of Japan next!

What’s happening in Japan today? 

Last year on October 30th 2020, Japan lowered travel restrictions for certain countries, which have controlled the number of COVID infections. These countries included Australia, Brunei, China (including Hong Kong and Macau), New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam. However, with the rise of COVID as well as the new variants of COVID reporting around the world, currently as of March 14th, these programs have been temporarily suspended until further notice. 

The Immigration Services Agencies of Japan indicates that unless there are special circumstances, any foreigners from or those visited 152 countries and regions are barred to travel to Japan today. This includes even the business travelers which come from the special business travel bubbles. 

airplane wing in scenic evening sky

The 2nd State of Emergency 

As of March 14th 2021, the 2nd state of emergency is still in place to these prefectures: Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, and Chiba. The 2nd state of emergency was planned from January 7th to February 7th initially, but it was extended to March 7th and then further extended for 2 more weeks till March 21st for those 4 prefectures listed above. 

The 2nd state of emergency was placed for eleven prefectures including Tokyo, Aichi, Chiba, Fukuoka, Gifu, Hyogo, Kanagawa, Kyoto, Osaka, Saitama, and Shizuoka.  Originally, on January 7th 2021, the 2nd state of emergency was placed for Tokyo and the greater Tokyo areas including 4 prefectures, Tokyo, Saitama, Chiba, and Kanagawa by the Prime Minister Suga. However, this state of emergency was soon expanded to 7 more prefectures on January 13th 2021 to include Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo, Aichi, Gifu, Tochigi, and Fukuoka. 

So how is the 2nd state of emergency going? Originally, it was placed till Feb 7th, but with the high number of COVID infections and Japanese medical systems struggling to keep up with the high demand, it was extended till March 7th. With the extension of the state of emergency, most of the prefectures remained, except for Tochigi prefecture, which ended the state of emergency on Feb 7th, the original date. In addition, on March 1st, except for Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, and Chiba prefectures, 6 prefectures ended the state of emergency. 

During this state of emergency, restaurants are expected to close by 8:00p.m., train systems shorten their operation hours, and companies are encouraged to facilitate remote work as much as possible. In addition, sports and entertainment are operating with limited capacities.

Furthermore, with this came the total ban of foreigners to enter Japan. On Feb 9th 2021, the Prime Minister Suga announced all foreign nationals, both tourists and business people (even the ones who were formally welcomed from the travel bubble countried), are barred from entering the country. From what we gathered, it seems it’s not so soon for us to take a part of a photography tour of Japan, isn’t it? 

man in train standing

Will Japan be open for the summer Olympics?

Despite 80% or so Japanese people are against having the summer Olympics in 2021, Japanese government is hoping to still hold the summer Olympics in 2021. With that said, everyone is curious how the country is going to reopen its border safely and if it is even possible. 

According to the survey carried by Kyodo News, 35.3% of people want the Olympics to be canceled while 44.8% of people want it to be postponed. With the Olympics scheduled to be held on July 23rd to 8th and the Paralympics scheduled to be held on Aug 24th to Sep 5th, everyone has a simple question in mind, “is there even enough time?” Moreover, every Japanese is worried “is it even safe for Japanese and the country?” There is only 4 more months till the Olympics and the country is currently completely barring any foreigners to enter, what’s possible in 4 months? 

On the contrary, according to the Japan Times, Japan is considering lifting its bans for foreigners to travel to Japan in April. However, this article was written in October 2020 and since then, a lot has happened and changed and so the reality of this happening is hard to measure. Though this is not the isolated article. There are many media reporting about Japan opening its borders to foreigners some time in Spring to be ready for the Olympics. Though as of March 14th 2021, nothing is certain. There is yet any announcement from the government or the Olympics committee thus we have no idea what is really going to happen at the moment. 

More recent development the media started to report is to have the Olympics without international visitors. Though this excludes sponsors etc. so Japanese people are genuinely worried about what impacts this might still bring to the country. Furthermore, many celebrities originally signed up to take a part of the torch relay have been resigning. Many indicate that the 2021 schedule no longer allows them to participate, but others indicate to exhibit their animosity and uneasiness about being a part of the Olympics during the pandemic. In short, only 4 more months till the Olympics, so much is unknown and there is not a whole lot of support from the Japanese people especially when the government is heavily involved in the Olympics and the Olympics committee is not clearly indicating what course of action to take when it is supposed to happen in the 2021 summer. 

athletes running on track and field oval in grayscale photography

So, can we travel to Japan today (March 14, 2021)? 

Unfortunately, the answer is NO! At the moment, Japan has closed its borders to everyone, even the business travelers who were formally allowed to enter Japan. The only people who can re-enter Japan are the Japanese nationals as well as foreign residents who have been living in Japan with a negative COVID test, which is taken 72 hours before traveling back to the country.  


Though, there is a possibility of Japan slowly and safely opening its borders as early as April 2021 or late spring. With the Pfizer vaccines finally making its way to Japan in Feb 2021, the country is trying to vaccinate as many people as possible just like the rest of the world. As many of you are eager to participate in the Photo Tour of Japan, we hope to update when the border reopens for anybody to travel to Japan or any drastic change is made to Japan’s COVID travel restrictions.

Learn Japanese Today

Mar 01 | Evan | No Comments |

“Shashin wo totte mo ii desu ka?” – How to ask others to take a photo of them 

Who is ready to travel to Japan? Are you eager to join Japan Photo Guide’s Japanese photography tour right now?  

Well, I am sure many of you are eager to travel to Japan and also work on your photography skills. Unfortunately, it’s not possible now, but until the time is ready, why don’t we work on our Japanese language skills so that the next time you visit Japan, you know a few phrases to communicate with Japanese people better! 

Today, we want to focus on how to ask others if it’s okay to take photos of them. In Japanese, we want to say: 

“Shashin wo totte mo ii desu ka”  (*In Japanese, “wo” is pronounced “o.”)

“しゃしん を とって も いい です か” 

“写真 を 撮って も いい です か”
Not sure where everyone’s Japanese language skill is so let’s break down the above sentence to understand the language better. Of course, we are not going too much in depth to keep it simple enough to grasp the language for all levels. (As you can see above, I have illustrated 3 of the same sentences depending on your Japanese level. If you are familiar with hiragana, you might like to challenge yourself practicing in hiragana and if you are advanced, why don’t you challenge yourself with kanji!)

1: Japanese nouns 

Shashin wo totte mo ii desu ka” 

In the above sentence, “shashin” is the noun. Here we are asking about taking a photo, thus “shashin = photo.” If you want to ask someone on the street or somewhere in Japan, ask them above before shooting. Of course, if you know Japanese, adding “sumimasen = excuse me” at the beginning is even better if it is not too much to remember. (Btw sumimasen = excuse me is a really useful one to remember to navigate in Japan regardless if you know what I mean!) 

Since you know where to put a noun in this type of question, instead of “shashin,” you can replace the noun with “video” to ask about taking a video of the person as well. If that’s the case, it becomes…

“Video wo totte mo ii desu ka” 

Attention: In Japanese, we do not have differentiations between singular or plural. Therefore, 1 photo or 2 photos, it is always “shashin.” It may be a confusing concept at the beginning for English speakers, but just remember this is how it works in Japanese. 

2: Question 

“Shashin wo totte mo ii desu ka” 

“しゃしん を とって も いい です か”

“写真 を 撮って も いい です か”

If you are new to Japanese, this is a good clue to know. When you hear “ka” at the end of a sentence, it means a question! As well as you using this phrase, you can always pay attention to how the sentence ends so that if you hear “ka” at the end, it means a question! 

3: Together With and Yours

Issho ni shashin wo totte mo ii desu ka” 

いっしょに しゃしん を とって も いい です か”

一緒に 写真 を 撮って も いい です か”

Just because you guys are all great, why don’t we try a little harder sentence! 

What if you want to take a photo with the person? If you want to ask this, you add “issho ni” at the beginning of the sentence. Here “issho ni” means “together with. 

Also, if the person is confused whose photo you want to photograph, you can add “anata no” to indicate “your” so that he/she is aware whose photo you want to take. If you know the person’s name, you can put the person’s name, such as “Hiroshi-san no” to directly address the person as well. (Of course, without adding “anata no,” usually people know what you are asking.)

Anata no shashin wo totte mo ii desu ka”

“あなた の しゃしん を とっても いい です か”

あなた の 写真 を 撮って も いい です か”

Well, how was the lesson? It’s easy, right? If you are thinking about joining Japan Photo Guid’s Japan photo tour in 2021 and beyond and have certain phrases you want to know in Japanese, please do not hesitate to leave a comment here or send Japan Photo Guide a message. As well as Japanese language, I hope to introduce Japanese cultures and customs that are unique to Japan so that when you join Japan Photo Guid’s Japan photography tour, you will be comfortable communicating with Japanese people a little. Of course, Japan Photo Guid offers both a group Japan tour and a private Japan tour so if you are nervous about Japanese and need more private tours, he is there to support you!! 

Winter Festival in Japan: Sapporo Snow Festival

Feb 19 | Evan | No Comments |

Sapporo Snow Festival is one of the most well known winter festivals of Japan. The first snow festival took place in 1950 with only 6 sculptures created by local high school students. It has now grown to attract over 2.7 million people each year and just like snow monkeys, Sapporo Snow Festival attracts many international tourists as well as domestic tourists. In this article, let’s learn about Sapporo Snow Festival so that when it’s time for you to join Japan Photo Guide’s photo tour of Japan, you will be well informed about this festival so that you can share your knowledge with others! 

Sapporo Snow Festival 

Sapporo Snow Festival generally happens at the end of January to the beginning of February for a week. However, the 72nd Sapporo Snow Festival, which is tentatively planned for Feb 4th to 11th 2021is little different from usual. Because of the global pandemic and thus difficulties collaborating with large scale sponsors and international collaborations, the 72nd Sapporo Snow Festival is held at a much smaller scale without large snow sculptures but only with small to midsize sculptures. 

Sapporo Snow Festival has become growingly international, not only because of popularity among international visitors, but also international sponsors and collaborations that have impacted this festival over the past years. The 1st time international communities got involved in this festival, there were only 6 countries involved, but over the years, more people got involved that by the 49th festival, there were 20 countries with 80 international individuals participated, and overall, there have been 37 countries and/or regions have participated to create a truly magical atmosphere. 

It’s all free!  

At Sapporo Snow Festival, there are 3 sites where there are a total of 200 snow and ice sculptures. You can walk around, observe, and even play and all of these sites are free! The theme of each site is a little different and these sites are called Odori Site, Susukino Site, and Tsudome Site. 

“Odori Site” is where there are usually large scale snow sculptures and this can be considered a main site having approximately 120 sculptures. At “Susukino Site,” there are approximately 60 ice sculptures. The last site is little different from the two as is more focused on visitors actually being able to do fun snow activities and is called “Tsudome Site.” It is held earlier from and is little away from the main site, requiring you to take a subway to get there. Tsudome site has 20 or so snow and ice sculptures. It is very family friendly, thus if you are visiting with children, this would be the perfect site to enjoy playing with snow. Of course, adults can enjoy playing there as well! 

The main site is “Odori Site” and this is where impressive large scale snow sculptures are built. Unfortunately this coming one, the 72nd festival won’t have large scale sculptures, but generally, this is where you can witness impressive large scale snow sculptures that will for sure impress you. The snow sculptures are impressive both day and night, but the nighttime is when the street is filled with magic. With the technology of projection mapping, the night time is when the real fun happens, the snow comes alive! Both Odori Site and Susukino Site sculptures are illuminated each day until 11:00p.m. on Odori Site and 10:00p.m. on Susukino Site so if you get a chance, definitely try to visit at night as well as during the day. 

Can’t miss the street food!

One thing you definitely cannot miss by going to Sapporo Snow Festival is the street food! I mean it’s literally impossible to miss the street food as there are many colorful food stalls with impossible to ignore smell coming from every stall you walk by. You will most likely be trying a lot of Japanese food when you are on a photography tour of Japan, but you definitely have to try Hokkaido delicacy when you are at the festival! 

Hokkaido’s food is definitely well known among Japanese to be the top quality when it comes to almost every food! The vast nature of Hokkaido provides rich food, from seafood like Hokkaido crab to a local food like gengiskan. Of course, you cannot miss Hokkaido ramen! It’s street food so a lot of them are accessible and reasonably priced that you can comfortably find food between 500 yen to 1,000 yen (5 to 10 USD). Some are even below 500 yen so you must try a variety of food before you indulge yourself in one thing! 

Dos and Don’ts of Sapporo Snow Festival 

When you attend Sapporo Snow Festival, definitely layer up! However, don’t forget that you will be walking around the festival or playing at the snow activities so think about comfort as well. It is suggested that wearing a t-shirt, a sweater, and a jacket/coat, having 3 layers is ideal. It’s not good to have a thin jacket/coat, but if you have a thick one, that is what you want to choose. Additionally, having a hat, gloves, and earmuffs would further protect you from the cold. If your main focus is Tsudome Site to play, then it’s not bad to dress in snowboard or ski wear. For more info, please take a look at here from the official website for how to dress. 

It is a snow festival so if you happen to have snow boots, it might not be a stupid idea to bring them as the streets are often frozen. However, they can take a lot of space in your suitcase so if that doesn’t work well with you, why don’t you get anti-slip straps for your shoes! Around the snow festival, they sell shoe clippers called “suberidome,” which can be attached to most of shoes to act as snow stoppers. These are around 1,000 yen and can be purchased at anywhere including convenient stores so if you don’t have proper shoes, definitely spend 1,000 yen to protect yourself from falling. 

One thing you also want to know at the festival is that you cannot use a drone. Being on a photography tour of Japan, I’m sure you want to photograph a lot at the festival. Well, you can use your camera to photograph and videography no problem, but the use of a drone is prohibited. If you are keen on seeing the drone image of the festival, below is the official YouTube video of the 70th Sapporo Snow Festival for you to see. It’s truly spectacular. 

Summary 

As Japan Photo Guide talks about Sapporo Snow Festival being one of his favorites, this festival is truly magical and one and only to Sapporo Japan. As well as impressive snow and ice sculptures, the fact it is held in Sapporo makes a big deal! This is the place to enjoy Hokkaido food! 

You may not like the cold very much, but the sculptures are so impressive to see and it’s hard not to be amazed by its beauty. With the technological advancements, as well as beauty, projection mapping has added excitement that any age group would appreciate. If you are more into activities, you can also head to Tsudome Site to try snow slides and snow rafting. Sapporo Snow Festival is definitely a highlight of the Japan photo tour during winter and let’s hope Japan Photo Guide can take you all there soon! 

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